By Isobella Harkrider
In Texas, the average teacher salary is below the national average, even a $5,000 raise is a huge boost to their overall income. A raise to teacher pay was a recommendation and common theme while House Bill 3 passed by the 86th Legislature in 2019.
As for the deciding pay factors for Texas teachers, where a school is located and how long a teacher has been teaching is often part of the measure. A graph on the the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website shares that the 2019-2020 minimum salary schedule for a teacher’s first year of teaching in Texas is $33,660, after five years of teaching the salary does a skip, not a leap, to $40,410. The average teacher salary in Texas is just over $50,000.
Continuing our conversation on charter schools, here is a scope of teacher pay and the qualifications a teacher must hold in the Lone Star State.
Charter School Teacher Pay
In Texas, the state minimum teacher salary is incredibly low. For those unfamiliar with public charter schools they may be surprised to learn that charters schools are not required to have employment contracts with their employees, it’s the charter holders who make the decisions and set their own salaries for professional employees.
Timothy Mattison, the Director of Policy and Research at the Texas Public Charter Schools Association, told Reform Austin, “Teachers earn a base pay, usually determined by a salary schedule that each district creates. Teachers also earn duty pay (e.g. if they tutored after school or coached a sport).”
Texans may be wondering how House Bill 3 affects teachers and the exciting changes that are on the outlook for teacher pay. Mattison continues with a view on charter schools, “Before HB 3, most teachers only earned their base pay and some earned duty pay. However, with HB 3’s Teacher Incentive Allotment, teachers can earn anywhere from three thousand to thirty-two thousand more on top of their base and duty pay. This allotment will eventually enable traditional and public charter schools to pay their teachers up to $90 thousand, if these teachers are teaching the highest need kids and if teachers are rated master teachers.”
When it comes to why a teacher would choose a charter school over a public school, Mattison says, “Some charters have offered higher than average pay to attract top talent. For the past several years IDEA Public Schools has offered three to five thousand dollars in bonuses per year for teachers who meet student performance targets.”
A district-level curriculum is not required at charter schools as long as they follow state standards, which gives teachers autonomy in the classroom, and this is a positive thing from Mattison perspective, “Many Texas public charters also embrace all manner of human differences based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. This creates a work environment where teachers can be open about their culture and families with their students and parents.”
Certifications and Qualifications for Teachers of Charter Schools
One of the main differences between a public school teacher and a charter teacher is in the contractual rights and qualifications.
Dr. Nathan Barrett, Sr. Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), told Reform Austin, “Recent evidence from the Educators for Excellence poll suggests that charter school teachers are 22% more likely to report feeling valued in their school.”
Barrett continued, “On average, charter schools employ more novice teachers and teachers from alternative preparation programs. This has implications for training and professional development, so charter schools often leverage coaching and mentoring to give real-time feedback. We see in many places that, although teaching qualifications may differ across sectors, charter school teachers perform at or above the level of their traditional counterparts. This agrees with a large amount of literature showing that teaching degrees have very little relation to student outcomes.”
To be a teacher in a charter school a teacher is required to have a bachelor’s degree. Certification is required for bilingual education/English as a second language (ESL) teachers and special education teachers, but not all teachers.
Although charter schools in Texas teach the same basic curriculum as traditional public schools, and charter students take the STAAR tests, some believe certification is at the core of a quality education and administering qualification.
Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association told Reform Austin, “Charters hire large numbers of uncertified teachers. There may be many reasons for charters to hire uncertified teachers, but presumably one reason is so they can pay them less than public school teachers. Some charters, though, may pay more.”
Considering healthcare plans and retirement, Robison says, “Charter teachers participate in the Teacher Retirement System pension plan for public school employees, and some charters participate in TRS’ ActiveCare health insurance plan. Others may have their own employee healthcare coverage. But charters, unlike public schools, are not bound by the state’s minimum salary schedule. Overall, the issue of teacher certification and compensation can affect the bottom line, which is the quality of a child’s education.”
Robison says other differences between charters and traditional public schools is turnover. “Charter schools don’t have to provide teachers with the contractual and employment rights that traditional public schools do. The result could be higher teacher turnover in some charters, which also can negatively impact a child’s education. Unlike public schools, charters also don’t have to provide teachers with planning periods, which are designed to enhance a teacher’s performance and ultimately benefit the students.”
Skeptics of charter schools may worry about how much weight credentials hold in conjunction to a child’s academic success.
Robison holds concern for the state requirements that are waived for charters–including teacher certification, minimum teacher pay and teacher contractual rights, which Robison believes “can ultimately harm a child’s learning opportunities.”
There are 7 million children in Texas and in an era when reaching the first day of school for a kindergartener doesn’t mean only one type of schooling option, providing a high quality education system that encourages academic growth and success for every child and their unique strengths is undeniably important for both traditional public schools families and charter school families across Texas.
An interactive map on the Texas Education Agency website lists all open-enrollment and university charter campuses in Texas, and based on this listing the Dallas area has 18 charter schools, Houston has 16, San Antonio has 21 and Austin has 18 charter schools. For those wondering about the growth of charter schools in Texas and fulfilling the need for teachers, the sufficiency of teacher credentials haven’t stopped charters such as IDEA Public Schools, that was awarded the largest ever federal grant for charter school expansion in 2019.